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Curve-billed Thrasher

Found in southern parts of the United States, these thrashers stand out for their long and curved bills.

The Curve-billed Thrasher’s bill is long and strong to help it probe the soil for food. Despite having strong legs, it does not scratch the ground like a towhee. Curve-billed Thrasher pairs maintain permanent territories.

Curve-billed Thrashers nest relatively early in the year, mostly from February through May, probably to beat the hot, dry summer weather of the southwestern U.S.  They often choose to nest in cholla cactus, whose many sharp spines offer some protection from nest predators.


Description of the Curve-billed Thrasher


The Curve-billed Thrasher has a typically thrasher-like shape, with a long tail and a long, decurved bill.  It is grayish-brown in color, with indistinct, round spots on the breast, and bright yellow eyes.
Length: 11 in.  Wingspan: 13 in.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

Visit the Bent Life History page for additional information.


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Similar to adults.


Curve-billed thrashers are found in deserts and arid, brushy country, but also in neighborhoods with native vegetation.


Primarily insects and berries.


Forages mostly on the ground, looking under litter for insects, but also harvests cactus fruits and seeds.


Curve-billed Thrashers occur from southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado south through western Texas, southern New Mexico, Arizona, and into Mexico. The population has declined in recent decades.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Curve-billed Thrasher.

Fun Facts

The subspecies occurring from Texas to the north is different from that which occurs farther south and west, and the two may be split into separate species one day.

The Curve-billed Thrasher’s favored nest sites in cholla cactus plants offer intimidating protection from predators because of the numerous, needle-sharp spines.


The song is a series of emphatic single or double notes. Calls include a loud “whit-WHIT-whit”.


Will visit water features or feeders with mixed seed.


Similar Species

Bendire’s Thrasher
Bendire’s Thrasher has arrow-shaped spots on the breast, and a shorter, straighter bill.  Other thrashers are either much plainer below, or are heavily streaked below.

Long-billed Thrasher
Much browner and with heavily streaked underparts, both the Long-billed Thrasher and the Curve-billed Thrasher can be found in south Texas.



The nest is an open cup made of twigs and lined with grass or hair.  It is usually placed in a cholla cactus, a yucca, or in a mesquite tree.

Number: Usually lay 3-4 eggs.
Color: Bluish-green with fine, dark markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 14 days, and leave the nest in another 14 days, though continuing to associate with the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Curve-billed Thrasher

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Curve-billed Thrasher – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.



When I did my field work in southern Arizona, in 1922, Palmer’s thrasher was regarded as the breeding form of this species all across the southern part of the State. At that time, J. Eugene Law (1928) had not called attention to the fact that the form breeding east of the Santa Rita Mountains in southeastern Arizona and southern New Mexico is celsum and not palmeri. But, as our field work covered much of both Cochise and Pima Counties, we were able to make the acquaintance of both forms.

Harry S. Swarth (1929) confirms Mr. Law’s diagnosis by saying: “Differences between the two lots, east and west of the Santa Ritas, are, in most cases, fairly apparent, especially so in the freshly assumed fall plumage. The eastern birds (curvirostre) are rather more slaty above, have fairly well marked white wing bars, have sharply defined white tips to the outer rectrices, and the breast spots are large and fairly well defined. The western birds (palmeri) are browner above, lack the wing bars, have the tail spots obscurely indicated or else entirely wanting, and have the breast spots less distinct.”

The range of Palmer’s thrasher covers a large part of southern and western Arizona, in the Lower Sonoran Zone, north to the central western part, east to the Santa Rita and Catalina Mountain region, and south to Sonora and northern Chihuahua in Mexico, mostly below 3,000 feet elevation. It is one of the most abundant and characteristic birds of these arid plains, where the hard, sun-baked soil supports only a scattered, open growth of small mesquites, greasewood and creosote bushes, salt bushes and other thorny shrubs, with an occasional ironwood tree, a screwbean, or a paloverde, gorgeous in spring with its solid mass of yellow blossoms. But the most interesting features of these desert mesas are the varied forms of cacti that are scattered through this open growth of unattractive, low shrubs that nowhere hide the bare ground. There are several species of chollas, or closely allied forms, of varied shapes and colors with blossoms of different hues, the huge barrel cactus that may someday slake a traveler’s thirst, the long, slender stems of the ocotillo with their flaming tips, and, here and there, the picturesque, towering candelabra of the saguaros punctuate the landscape. Here the Palmer’s and Bendire’s thrashers find a congenial home, make their nests in the spiny chollas, and vie with the other desert dwellers for the scanty living that such a forbidding region affords.

But these thrashers are not wholly partial to the open desert mesas; we frequently saw them about the ranches and often near houses, where they could find a solitary cholla in which to build their nest. Mr. Swarth (1920) says that “about Phoenix and Tempe it is, perhaps, the most abundant single species of bird, and it even ventures into the towns where sheltering brush piles or thickets remain in vacant lots or along roadsides. Cultivated farm lands hold little attraction for the thrasher, however, and it is rarely seen about such places.”

Courtship: Palmer’s thrashers are permanent residents in southern Arizona and are probably more or less permanently mated; at least the pairs seem to remain together during winter. Their courtship seems to be a very simple affair just preceding nest-building. Earle F. Stafford (1912) has published an interesting account of a pair that spent the winter about his ranch. On February 14, an appropriate date, he noticed signs of courtship: “One sidled along the fence, and the other followed at a respectful distance, singing a little, 8otto voce. They were constantly in company after this, having little pursuits and ‘tiffs,’ and the male, after two weeks of silence, sang oftener and with greater force than before.” On the 16th they started gathering nesting material, but they went about it in an “easy and desultory fashion.” When he left the ranch on March 9, no eggs had been laid, though the female had been seen on the nest repeatedly.

Nesting: All the nests we found, with one exception, were in chollas, 3 to 5 feet above ground; one was in that dense woolly cholla Opuntia bigelovii, the most thickly branched and most densely covered with vicious, barbed spines of all the chollas; how the birds can pick their way into it and out again is a mystery. In one nest, we were surprised to find three eggs of Gambel’s quail. The only nest that was not in a cholla was placed 5 feet from the ground between the three branches of a soapweed yucca. The nests were all made of coarse and fine thorny twigs, rather loosely laid, and were lined with fine grasses and in some cases with a little horsehair. Sometimes there were one or more old nests in the same cholla with the new one; M. French Gilman (1909) shows a photograph of a cholla only 5 feet high that had been a favorite nesting site, for it contained five old cactus wrens’ nests and four old nests and one new nest of Palmer’s thrasher. W. L. Dawson (1923) states that his son counted as many as 14 old nests, or their remnants, in one bush.

We were not the only ones to find eggs of Gambel’s quail in the old nests of Palmer’s thrasher; Mr. Gilman (1909) reports a nest that held 13 eggs of this quail; and F. C. Willard (1923) found a quail sitting on a set of 17 eggs, and shows a photograph of the nest and eggs.

In this same paper Mr. Willard states that he saw a Palmer’s thrasher fly from a hole 15 feet up in a large sycamore, where he found a nest full of young thrashers.

All observers seem to agree that the favorite nesting sites of Palmer’s thrasher are in chollas. Mr. Gilman (1909) says:

Of 27 nests found, 11 were In the cholla; 7 in the jujube, about as spiny as any cactus; 4 were in mistletoe of mesquite and cottonwood; 2 in Lycium, 2 in mesquite, and 1 in a clematis vine trailing over a shrub. The average distance from the ground was 6½ feet, and the extremes were 2½ feet and 10 feet. * * * The nest is a bulky affair but well built. The nest proper is 3 or 4 inches deep, inside measurement, and above this is a superstructure or rim from 2 to 3 Inches high. Several nests seen measured over 6 inches deep. Rather coarse twigs are used in the construction and the lining is mostly of rootlets, though some fine bark, hair or feathers may also be seen in some of the nests. The bird is not too proud to use a foundation already laid, as three nests were found built right on top of old Cactus Wrens’ nests.

Herbert Brown (1892) refers to the thorny protection of the thrasher’s nest, probably in Opuntia bigelovii, that exceedingly bristling cholla, as—

ten million of cambric needles, set on hundreds of loosely jointed spindles, woven so closely together as to apparently defy the penetration of a body however small, but the thrashers go in and out and up and through them with the ease of water running through a sieve. In some convenient fork, on a limb against the bole of the bush, or in a cavity formed by the pendent stems of the plant, the nest is most commonly built. All the spines in the vicinity of the nest are pulled off for the better protection of the young. This does not, however, always save them as I have found them once in a while, tangled and dead in the terrible burs. * * *

One nest was built on the ruins of three others and probably represented as many successive broods, and gave the interior of the cholla the appearance of having been solidly filled in with dead sticks. Exterior diameter of the nest 20 inches, depth 36 Inches, cavity across the top 4½ inches, bottom 3 inches, depth 6 inches, but lined only about 4 inches up with baling rope, hog bristles and grass. * * * In the spring of 1889 I noted several nests made almost entirely of flowering weeds. This came from the nature of the vegetation in the immediate vicinity of the cholla belt in which the nests were placed.

Eggs: Most Palmer’s thrashers’ nests contain three eggs, the usual complement, but four are not rare, two are frequent, and sometimes a single egg is incubated and hatched. Fourteen of 27 nests examined by Mr. Gilman (1909) contained three eggs each, two had four eggs, and the rest held two or one. There are 21 sets of eggs of this thrasher in the J. P. Norris collection, 15 of three, 5 of four, and 1 of two.

The eggs vary in shape from ovate to short-ovate or elliptical-ovate, and they are not glossy. There is very little variation in color or markings; the ground color varies from pale bluish green, “dull opaline green,” to pale greenish blue, “etain blue,” or even to paler shades of these colors. The markings usually consist of minute specks or fine pinpoints of pale brown, “cinnamon-rufous,” evenly distributed over the entire egg, but rarely more thickly at the larger end. Still more rarely there are somewhat larger spots of darker brown, such as “burnt umber.” There is considerable variation in size; the measurements of 40 eggs, in the United States National Museum, average 29.3 by 20.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 32.5 by 20.0, 31.0 by 25.5, 25.9 by 19.8, and 26.4 by 18.3 millimeters, a variation of about seven millimeters, or nearly 25 percent, in both length and breadth.

Young: The period of incubation is said to be about 13 days, and the young remain in the nest 14 to 18 days. The male shares with his mate the duties of incubation and the care of the young; they are a devoted pair and equally devoted as parents. Almost always two broods, and sometimes three, are raised in a season. If the eggs are taken from a nest, a second set will be laid within about two weeks; and within two or three weeks after the first brood leaves the nest, either the same nest, or another nearby, will be used to start the second brood. Although the nesting season is a long one, it seems unlikely that a third nesting would be attempted, unless one of the earlier attempts had been broken up.

A. L. Rand (1941) has published a most interesting and very extensive paper based on his studies, near Tucson, Ariz., of a large number of young thrashers of this species, both in the wild and in captivity, from the time of hatching until about 90 or 96 days old. The reader is referred to this paper for details, as only a few of the many interesting facts and reactions can be mentioned in the limited space available here. He says that “in common with most passerine birds the young thrasher hatches in a blind, nearly naked condition; has a tendency to keep right side up and open its mouth for food in response to a wide variety of stimuli; it is utterly dependent on the adult. In the course of 5 or 6 weeks its physical equipment and its behavior develop so that it can survive independently, finding its own food and escaping its enemies.”

He gives a detailed account, day by day, of the physical growth and the development of behavior, of the young bird during the 18 days that it is in the nest. For the first 5 days the young are blind and helpless. On the sixth day, the eyes can be widely opened and the contour feathers are just breaking the skin; the rectrices are beginning to break out of their sheaths. On the fourteenth day the young bird is well feathered, and may leave the nest on or before the eighteenth day. “Two young of one nest, usually one a day older than the other, often leave the nest a day apart, the stimulus causing one young to leave not causing the other to do so. Their physical equipment is such that they can hop and run well, but their wings only help them to flutter down at a steep angle. * * * When young thrashers in captivity were beginning to feed themselves to a considerable extent (after about 30 days), they still begged occasionally. * * * By the 40th day they became completely independent and somewhat shy of persons.”

He conducted a number of interesting experiments to determine the reaction of young thrashers to various stimuli, including mammals, predatory birds, and reptiles introduced in the cages. The thrashers usually showed mild interest and sometimes fled, but they apparently had not learned to recognize dangerous enemies. This section of his paper is well worth reading.

Plumages: The Brewster collection, in the Museum of Comparative Zoology in Cambridge, contains a large series of specimens of this thrasher, including several in juvenal plumage. I cannot improve on Mr. Brewster’s (1882a) own words in describing some of them. One young bird, “although well feathered, has the wings and tail undeveloped, and was taken from the nest. Its entire upper plumage is rusty brown with a chestnut tinge which deepens on the rump and outer webs of the secondaries to decided chestnut brown. The general coloring of the under parts is pale fulvous with a strong tinge of rusty chestnut across the breast, along the sides, and over the anal region and crissum. The breast is obsoletely spotted, but the plumage elsewhere, both above and below, is entirely immaculate.”

Several other young birds, somewhat older, show varying degrees of intensity of the rusty tinge and its distribution, and considerable variation in the amount and distribution of the spotting on the breast. He continues:

Several of these young birds are so nearly similar to specimens of H. bendirei in corresponding stages that they can be separated only with great difficulty. The stouter bill and entirely black lower mandible of palmeri may, however, always be depended upon as distinguishing characters; and, moreover, the pectoral spotting of bendirei is usually (but not invariably) finer and sharper, and the rusty tinge above paler and less extended.

The adults present a good deal of variation, most of which is apparently seasonable. Winter specimens have the lower abdomen, with the anal region and crissum, rich rusty-fulvous, while the markings beneath are similar in character to those of true curvirostris and the spots equally distinct, numerous and widely distributed. With the advance of the season, and the consequent wear and tear of the plumage, the spots gradually fade or disappear. Indeed some of the June specimens are absolutely immaculate beneath, although most of them, like Mr. Ridgway’s types have a few faint markings on the abdomen. In this condition the general coloring is also paler and grayer, and the fulvous of the crissum and neighboring parts often entirely wanting.

The postnuptial molt of adults, and apparently the postjuvenal molt of young birds, begins late in July and continues through August; old birds look very much worn, bedraggled, and faded at this season.

Food: The food of Palmer’s is very similar to that of the other thrashers, including numerous insects and their larvae as well as various fruits and berries. Its feeding methods remind one of our eastern brown thrasher. It is fond of water and comes freely to bird baths and other places where it can find water about houses, as well as resorting to open water holes. Florence Merriam Bailey (1923) writes:

One was seen drinking from a dripping faucet and another seen perched on top of a viznaga reaching down with Its long curved bill digging out the shining black seeds and the moist pulp which the House Finches had also found a ready source of both food and moisture. A Thrasher accidentally caught in a trap, January 28, had an empty crop but a gizzard full of seeds of cactus (Opuntia sp. ?), and the shrubbery hackherry (Celtis pallida), a few oat shells, one grain, a few insect remains, apparently ants, and some gravel. One of the birds was seen, February 8, walking in the mesquite pasture, flipping up cowchips as he went, evidently looking for insects or other toothsome morsels below—a scorpion had been found under one of them.

Mr. Stafford (1912) says: “I have seen my birds spend much time in the yard half squatting, with braced feet, digging holes of considerable depth (some as deep as 2½ inches) with quick, powerful blows of their sickle-like beaks; or casting aside the mould and parched soil with nervous sidewise thrusts, in search of grubs. On those parts of the desert, too, affected by the birds the ground usually shows plentiful signs of their probing.”

Mr. Brown (1892) says that “they press their tails firmly against the ground, after the manner of the woodpecker; if the earth be dry and sandy, a perfect fusillade of dirt is kept up. The force of the blow is downward and toward the body, but occasionally to clean the sand out they strike sideward blows, and dirt flies for a foot in all directions.”

Behavior: One cannot watch a Palmer’s thrasher long without being impressed with its decided resemblance to the brown thrasher in all its movements. It runs rapidly or hops lightly over the ground, or skims swiftly through the air from one low bush to another, seldom rising high in the air, and, if pursued, flies away or dashes to seclusion in the thickest shubbery it can find. Its method of foraging on the ground is much like that of our eastern bird, as it tosses the leaves and litter aside with its bill while hunting for food under trees and bushes.

Mr. Engels (1940) writes:

The gait of the Palmer thrasher is not smooth, but rather jerky; the bird gives the appearance of being set back on its haunches and of being stiff legged. The jerkiness of the gait is most in evidence when the bird Is moving directly toward or directly away from the observer; the stiff-leggedness and the peculiar set of the body on the legs are best observed in profile. I do not mean to intimate that the Palmer thrasher is not at ease on the ground, but only that in its walking and running its action is not so smooth as that of other thrashers. * * *

The Palmer thrasher is entirely like the brown and the Bendire In frequency of flight. In 16 days on the Arizona deserts in 1936, I saw at least 100 Palmer thrashers and followed many of them. Their reaction to pursuit was invariably the same; they moved away by flying, at a good height and often for rather long distances. On a cut-over mesquite flat one bird was followed for more than a half-mile, and in the course of its flight it entered and left four or five mesquites in succession without once descending to the ground. Brooding birds were repeatedly flushed from their nests in the cholla cactus; they always left on the wing and continued in flight to some distant perch.

Some observers have referred to this thrasher as shy, and it may be so in its wilderness haunts, though we did not notice that it was any more shy than the average wild bird; and in the defense of its nest and young it is sometimes quite bold and fearless. About the ranches, where it is not molested, it even becomes rather tame. Mr. Gilman (1909) says:

The Palmer and Bendire seem naturally much tamer than the others and come about homes quite frequently. All summer I placed pieces of watermelon in the shade of a school building—vacation time and no children about—and both these thrashers came freely and ate with a family of scolding Cactus Wrens. But never a Crissal appeared. The Palmer and Crissal dug in the garden and also ate wheat planted nearby, and frequented the barn and well. They would come and drink from an Iron kettle placed on the ground for the chickens. At the Casa Grande ruins the custodian had a large can placed so water from it dripped onto a milk and butter cooler. This was against a window under the porch roof and a pair of Paliners would come and catch the drops of water as they fell. At a post trader’s store near Blackwater the Palmer would come into a porch and drink from the drip of an olla or water cooler. Both Palmer and Bendire frequently sing from the tops of Indian homes and sometimes from the school house. * * * This thrasher is a close sitter and when disturbed leaves the nest, but soon returns showing much concern. Both parents usually show up, approaching as near as 6 feet and uttering the usual two-syllabled call, tho sometimes using the guttural scolding note.

Commenting on the fearlessness of these thrashers about his ranch in January, Mr. Stafford (1912) wrote in his notes: “Last night as we sat motionless on the porch one of the Thrashers approached by stages to within 5 feet of us, caught a moth beneath the umbrella trees, flew up into one of the trees just before me, and then to the tap and bent over again and again for the drops of water that collected just within the mouth of the faucet. All of these acts he performed utterly unconscious of us as living and observing creatures.”

He gives an interesting account of their nightly roosting habits in the cholla containing their nest. On January 27, 1912, he wrote in his notes:

At about sunset, and while it was yet quite fully light, I took a small chair and seated myself almost within arm’s reach and in full view of the cholla cactus back of the sheds. For 20 minutes nothing appeared save a troop of Desert and Brewer’s Sparrows flying by, cheeping, to their roost in the low mesquites. As yet there was no sign of the Thrashers. Suddenly, as the gloom was faintly beginning to gather, one of the birds, without previous warning, arrived from the east and lighted on a fence post near me. I sat motionless, but he evidently regarded this unwonted object near his home with suspicion. I felt that he was examining me. Then he uttered, fairly in my ear, a volley of his whip-like whistles, which, after a moment, was loudly answered upon a sudden from the second bird, which seemed to come from the south. The two, thus joined for the night, flew about in the chollas, though not yet to them, singing and purring softly to each other. One sat just beyond a bush in front of me, on the ground, for 10 or more minutes. It was still so light that I contented myself with glances through nearly closed lids. * * *

At length I heard them enter the chollas close at hand, uttering low notes; and then silence. I looked and saw one perched crouched, I think on a certain despined branch above the nest. The other I could not see. For a half hour the bird sat, facing the sunset, and motionless, and I could see its long curved beak and slim body outlined against the sky. As it grew darker I opened my eyes more freely, and I imagined it regarding me the while. At length it moved, and turned about—I thought it had detected me and was on the point of flight—but instead it slid gently down into the big nest and disappeared in its ample cup.

On other occasions he noted that “after sunset and before sunrise every day a few sharp whistles from the direction of the chollas announced the roost-going and the waking of the thrashers with precise punctuality.” And he concludes by saying: “As far as I can conclude, then, two Palmer’s thrashers, having mated for life, select a suitable cholla and build a nest that shall serve indefinitely with such yearly repair as it requires, for the rearing of young in the breeding season, and for sleeping quarters the rest of the year.” It will be noted that his roosting observations were made in January, that no signs of courtship were seen until February 14, and that nest-repairing did not begin until 2 days later.

Additional evidence on this method of roosting is furnished by Josiah H. Clark (1898), who says: “In one instance I saw a series of five half completed nests built around the central stalk of a cholla cactus and resting on the branches that grew out from the main stalk; they were all connected, and made a platform 2 feet in diameter, and only about a foot and a half from the ground. It was built during the winter and used only for a roosting place. The nest that was used as a breeding place was built 5 feet away in the top of a small cholla.”

Voice: As a singer Palmer’s thrasher is somewhat inferior to Bendire’s and decidedly inferior to the mockingbird and even the brown thrasher. Mr. Stafford (1912) writes: “The song of this species suggests that of the eastern Thrasher, but lacks its variety and separation into distinct phrases, and is more in the nature of a loud, interrupted carol, clear, and melodious. Its two or three note call is sharp and startling, like the ‘sing’ of a whip stroke echoing upon itself. These, together with low trills and Wren-like chatters, uttered at times when the birds are together, were the only notes I heard; and the song is not to be confused with the feverish, rollicking music of the Bendire’s (Toxostoma bendirei) —a bird nearly as common in this region as palmeri.”

Mr. Brown (1892) says: “Palmer’s thrasher may never be classed as a musical prodigy, but nevertheless among Arizona birds he is rivalled only by that king of American songsters, Mimus polyglottos. Morning, noon and evening, perched on the topmost branch of a cholla, he is always in tune, and while his notes may perhaps be less varied than his more favored kinsman, it is none the less bold and commanding, and but for the ubiquity of his rival in song would be in demand as a cage bird.”

Mrs. Bailey (1923) writes: “The three-syllabled liquid tee-dle-lah was heard commonly all winter and the loud strident call occasionally, and on the morning of January 12, while the ground was still covered with white frost, a soft low song was heard coming from one of the birds sitting fluffed up in the cold. The song was heard again on January 19 and February 3, and on March 4, one was heard singing loudly from the peak of a tent at Continental.”

Field marks: Palmer’s thrasher might easily be confused with Bendire’s; both have the typical thrasher build, long and slender, with a particularly long tail, and a rather long bill; both are dull, earthy brown on the upper surface, matching the desert floor, and faintly spotted on the breast; there are no conspicuous, distinguishing marks on either. Bendire’s is a little smaller than Palmer’s, is a little more definitely spotted on the breast, and has a shorter and less curved bill. The songs of the two are somewhat different; and the flight of Bendire’s is smoother, less jerky, than that of Palmer’s.

Winter: This thrasher is a permanent resident in Arizona and apparently remains paired during winter. Mr. Stafford (1912) makes the statement that “after the young are launched, the old pair, while remaining inseparable, lapse into a condition of conjugal camaraderie, and that the male quietly courts his mate anew each spring in anticipation of nesting.”

Mr. Brown (1892) says: “During the winter months they leave the mesas for the more sheltered bottoms where they frequent the brush fences, pomegranate and willow hedge rows bordering the ploughed fields, and then, literally, they are in mud to their eyes.




The distribution of this race of the species is now understood to extend from southeastern Arizona, east of the Santa Rita Mountains, and southern New Mexico, through western Texas and into Mexico through Chihuahua and Durango, east of the Sierra Madres. This is the form that we found breeding abundantly in Cochise County, Ariz., which we supposed at that time to be palmeri. The haunts and the habits of the two were similar as far as we could see. The characters in which these two forms differ are explained under the foregoing subspecies, as noted by H. S. Swarth (1929). In New Mexico, according to Mrs. Bailey (1928), it is a common breeder on the cactus mesas and up to 0,000 and sometimes 7,000 feet on some of the mountains. Josiah H. Clark (1904) found this thrasher breeding commonly in the State of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, where the elevation is about 8,000 feet and Palmer’s thrasher in Sonora at an elevation of 1,200 feet, where chollas, common to both localities, served as the most common nesting sites.

Nesting: With the exception of one nest, all the nests of this thrasher that we found in Cochise County, Ariz., were in chollas and not different in location and construction from those of Palmer’s thrasher found farther west. The one exception was a nest with young found in Rucker Canyon, in the Chiricahua Mountains, on April 25, 1922; it was placed in a large soapweed yucca that stood close to the house at Moore’s ranch; t.he old bird was unusually tame.

Mr. Clark (1904), who has examined over 100 nests of the two races of this species in Mexico, writes:

The nests of both birds are the same, made of thorny twigs; in fact, nothing grows there without thorns on it, so they can get nothing else. These sticks are 6 to 10 inches long, and form the outside of the nest, which is lined with wire grasses; sometimes horse hair is used in place of the grass, or with it. The nests are externally about 10 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep; internally about 3½ inches, both in diameter and depth. * *

The new nest of both birds is generally near the old one, usually in the same cactus, and sometimes the old nest made over.

Sometimes the nest is completed 2 or 3 weeks before the eggs are laid. Then again, if the nest and eggs are taken the birds will have another nest and eggs in from 12 to 15 days, and the new nest is usually about 50 feet from the one taken, but if the first nest is not disturbed the new nest will usually be about 5 feet from the old one.

Of 58 nests of this thrasher, “40 were in cholla cactus, 16 in nopalo cactus, and 2 in palma trees.”

Eggs: Three eggs seems to be the usual number; of 10 sets, of which he gives the measurements, 8 were sets of three, 1 of two, and 1 of four. The eggs are apparently indistinguishable from those of Palmer’s thrasher, showing similar variations in colors and markings. The measurements of 50 eggs in the United States National Museum average 27.3 by 19.8 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 30.8 by 20.8, 28.2 by 20.8, 23.4 by 18.8, and 24.4 by 18.0 millimeters.

Plumages: Van Tyne and Sutton (1937) report that the natal down on a young nestling, taken from a nest, “was Chaetura Drab above and whitish on the chin and ventral tracts, the lining of the mouth was Yellow Ocher.” The sequence of molts and plumages is doubtless similar to those of the species elsewhere, though the postnuptial molt of adults seems to come somewhat later, mainly in September and early in October.

Nothing that is peculiar to it seems to have been published on the food of this subspecies, and apparently it does not differ materially in any of its habits from other races of the species.


Range: Southwestern United States and Mexico.

The species ranges north to central Arizona (Hackberry, Big Sandy Creek, Fort Verde, Salt River Wildlife Refuge, and Clifton); southern New Mexico (Pleasanton, Elmendorf, Capitan Mountains, and Carlsbad); and southern Texas (Comstock, Uvalde, San Antonio, and Runge). East to southern Texas (Runge, Corpus Christi, and Brownsville); Tamaulipas (Matamoros, Xicotencatl, and Tampico); Veracruz (Orizaba); Puebla (TechuacAn); and Oaxaca (Oaxaca). South to Oaxaca. West to Oaxaca; Guerrero (Chilpancingo); MichoacAn (Tancitaro); Jalisco (Tuxpan); Nayarit (Tepic); Sinaloa (Escuinapa and Altata); Sonora (Obregon, Guaymas, Tibur6n Island, Altar, and Sonoyta); extreme southeastern California (Bard); and Arizona (Castle Dome Mountains, Harqua Hala Mountains, and hackberry). An isolated colony has become established in the Black Mesa near Kenton, Cimarron County, Okla.

The range as outlined is for the entire species, three subspecies of which occur within the United States. Palmer’s thrasher (T. c. palmeri) is found in southern Arizona and Sonora; the plateau thrasher (T. c. celsum) occurs from extreme southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and western Texas, south to northeastern Jalisco and northwestern Guanajuato; the Brownsville thrasher (T. c. oberholseri) occurs in extreme southern Texas and northeastern Mexico; Coahuila to Tamaulipas.

The species occurs in winter throughout its range but some individuals apparently withdraw from the northern sections.

Casual records: A specimen was collected at Spur, Tex., on November 12, 1931; from April 19 to May 4, 1936, from 1 to 5 were seen at North Platte, Nebr., and a specimen collected on May 2; one was seen daily from June 5 to 11, 1932, near Pensacola, Fla., and it was collected on the latter date.

Egg dates: Arizona: ‘1 records, April 19 to May 24.

Texas: 110 records, March 12 to August 1; 60 records, April 24 to May 23, indicating the height of the season.

Mexico: 38 records, March 1 to July 24; 20 records, April 8 to May 28.




In naming and describing this subspecies, J. Eugene Law (1928) says: “The white terminal spots of the lateral rectrices combined with the near-equal length of wing and tail differentiate oberholseri from palmeri, occidentalis and maculata of the Pacific watershed. From curvirostris, its nearest neighbor, of the continental highlands, oberholseri only differs in shorter length of wing and tail. * * * The material at hand does not carry this small race [the smallest of the species] out of the lowlands of southern Texas and of northeastern Mexico (Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila). More than 75 percent of the stations recorded on the labels of the series examined are under 500 feet altitude; none apparently is over 2,000 feet.”

We found this thrasher rather common in Cameron and Hidalgo Counties in southern Texas, especially in the more open growth of chaparral where there was a scattered growth of prickly pear cactus. George B. Sennett (1879) says: “This species, like the Long-billed, is usually more fond of dense cover than the Mockingbird, and while not often found, in the heaviest timber, yet will be found in the thickets common on the edges of such tracts. In open woodland, where clumps of tall thorny bushes and cacti surround the scattered trees, it is always found, and usually in company with the Long-billed Thrush.”

Dr. Herbert Friedmann (1925) says that, near Brownsville, this bird is called “Field Thrasher,” as it is found in open fields.

Nesting: Mr. Sennett (1879) says of the nesting haunts of this thrasher:

In nesting, the habits of this species vary to suit the locality. In districts where chaparral covers the country, there is no respectable growth of timber, but now and then openings, principally occupied by prickly-pear cactuses and stunted mesquite trees, and here their nests will he found in cactuses more frequently perhaps than in trees. But at Lomita I found five nests In trees to one in cacti. * * * At Lomita Ranch, close by a large and much frequented gateway, stands a young ebony-tree, from which, In plain sight, and some 12 feet from the ground, I took a nest and four eggs in April * * * and on May 20 I took a nest and three fresh eggs, at a height of 14 feet, in a large ebony, close by a pathway on the edge of a cornfield. These were the highest nests found, and in both Instances the birds were as tame as Robins. Nests are seldom found lower than 4 feet from the ground.

Elsewhere, referring to the same region near Brownsville, he (1878) writes:

The first nest secured was at Hidalgo, April 17. Its location was beneath the roof in the broken side of a thatched outhouse in the very heart of the village. A more exposed place for human view could not be found, nor was there in the village a yard more frequented by children; yet I could not imagine a safer retreat from its more natural enemies. * * * The average size of nest was about that of an ordinary 4-quart measure, although, from its irregular shape, it would not set into one. Its depth outside was fully 6 inches, with an inside depth of 2 so that when the bird was on, though only 6 feet from the ground, nothing hut its head and tail could be seen. The nest was composed of twigs from the size of a leadpencil down, and lined with dry grasses. * * *

On May 10th, while on horseback, I came upon a prickly-pear cactus, wonderful to me for its size and tree-like shape. Its trunk was the size of a man’s body, and some of its branches were above my head as I sat on my horse. Its general form was that of a wine-glass. While peering about and poking the stalks with my gun, I discovered in the very heart of the great cactus a nest and four eggs of this Thrush. It was about 5 feet from the ground, perfectly exposed above, yet nothing could be more secure from all sides.

Dr. J. C. Merrill (1878), writing about the same region, says:

“The nests are usually placed among the fleshy joints of the prickly pear, or in some of the many thorny and almost impenetrable bushes found in Southern Texas; they are often seen in the dense prickly hedges that surround most Mexican jacals. They are, as a rule, readily distinguishable from those of the Texas Thrasher and Mocking-bird by the almost invariable lining of yellow straws, giving a peculiar appearance to the nest. They are also more compactly built, are well cupped, and often have the edges well guarded by thorny twigs.”

George B. Benners (1887) found a nest in an old woodpecker’s hole in a live oak tree on the bank of the Rio Grande near Laredo, Tex.; the nest was “composed of dry grass, lined with feathers,” and contained four eggs.

Eggs: Four eggs seems to be the usual set for the Brownsville thrasher, though some of the sets consist of only three; this, if true, is quite at variance with the custom of the species elsewhere. The eggs are evidently indistinguishable from those of Palmer’s thrasher, and show the same variations in size, shape, and markings. The measurements of 40 eggs average 27.1 by 19.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 32.3 by 20.5, 26.5 by 22.5, 22.5 by 19.0, and 25.0 by 17.5 millimeters. Note that the greatest breadth and the least length are the same, a most unusual variation! The next shortest egg measures 24.9 and the next broadest 21.6.

There is little more to be said about the habits of the Brownsville thrasher, which seem to be quite similar to those of the species elsewhere. Mr. Sennett (1879) says:

It is resident where found, commences to breed in March on the Rio Grande, and rears several broods in a season. The first is hatched in April, and generally numbers four. By the middle or latter part of May, clutches for the second brood are full, and consist nearly always of three eggs. I have taken, however, a few sets of four from the second laying. * * * By the 1st of April, the plumage becomes faded and worn; and, by the latter part of May, moulting begins. About this time, also, the small black fruit or berry of the como-tree, upon which the bird feeds, ripens, and it becomes almost impossible to shoot and prepare a specimen without the plumage becoming stained with the purple juices which issue from the mouth and vent. * * * Were the country thickly settled, this bird might become as domestic as the Mockingbird or Robin.

Elsewhere (1878) he says: “I do not remember hearing its song, but I am told by the residents of the country that it sings very sweetly in secluded places, but never in confinement.” Dr. Merrill (1878), on the other hand, says: “I cannot confirm the praises of the song of this bird given by Couch and Heerman: it seems to me to be one of the most silent of the song Thrushes. Its alarm note is a sharp whit~whit.”

R. D. Camp told Dr. Friedmann (1929) that he had found this species, near Brownsville, to be imposed upon by the dwarf cowbird. This is, I believe, the only case recorded for any of the races of this species.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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